Published on 30th August 2020
French TV – #13 Stories Without Fingerprints
Louisville, Kentucky is probably not the first place you would think of as a hotbed of prog rock, and to be fair, you would be completely justified. However, this place is called home by one Mike Sary and his veteran band of musical outliers, collectively known as French TV. As the album title might suggest, this is their thirteenth album. The band formed in 1983 and since then it has seen a number of line-up changes, the only constant being nimble-fingered bassist and band leader Mike Sary. Joining Mike are Katsumi Yoneda on guitars, and Pat Straswer on keyboards, and for three of the six tracks on the first CD, drummer Mark L. Perry, all of whom also featured on the last album, 2017’s #12 Operation: Mockingbird, and so a fleetingly rare consistency of line-up is achieved. The drums on the rest of the album are supplied by the returning Jeff Gard, last seen on 2010’s #10 I Forgive You All My Unhappiness.
Reading my review of the last album, it is hard to add to the descriptions therein for the latest work, as the complexities that are the group’s trademark remain, continuing to par boil one’s synapses with a dash of Cajun hot spice, in a Zappaesque jus, all cooked for exactly the right amount of time. This time round we are served a generous helping of FTV over two CDs. The first disc contains six new numbers that cover the expanse of the already well-established FTV canvas with splashes of colour, and splatters of wilful obscurantism in just the right proportion. The new-but-old drummer links well with leader Mike Sary’s rubbery bass runs, runs that threaten to get almost funky on The Museum of Worthless Inventions. Jeff Gard’s drumming on that track is light and dexterous, and is never obtrusive, knowing when to leave it alone, contrasting with the slightly heavier style of Mark Perry. The Museum… breaks into a neo-prog wash of synths and restrained noodling courtesy of keys man Pat Strawser and plank spanker Katsumi Yoneda.
This Jigsaw is Tearing our Family Apart, in a typically FTV move, opens surprisingly with some straight rock riffage from Katsumi, before settling into the familiar cosmic jazz groove, drifting along in the most pleasing fashion. While being laid-back, the tune has more than enough going on to bamboozle the by now deeply involved listener, as it reaches its insistent crescendo.
The first album ends with A Cornucopia of Riches, which is kinda self-explanatory. The sound on this one somehow seems fuller, richer, but that was probably the intention. It always makes me smile how French TV are listed as “RIO/Avant Prog” on prog nerds’ Bible, Prog Archives. They may be baffling, humorous, and sometimes wilfully and knowingly pretentious, but “avant” they are not. Most of all, this band is fun! Don’t let labels put you off, there is enough here to put a smile on the face of Mr & Mrs Adversity, no matter their musical preferences.
Disc two is a live in the studio recording of the band’s setlist from 2018’s Chicago Progtober festival, right down to a shouted “Good afternoon everybody” at the start of the second track. It includes a Steppenwolf cover, two versions of tracks from disc one, and a choice selection of the band’s gloriously tumescent back pages. Katsumi’s sustain guitar intro to opener Ghost Zone/Noble Obelisk is quite lovely, and the latter part of the tune highlights the band’s not inconsiderable chops in a delightful manner.
The pseudo-live disc is far more “rock” oriented than its more traditionally “studio” counterpart, and the version of This Decadent Poetry is Awful is a neat confirmation of that observation, with some great toing and froing between the keys and guitar. Pat’s synth skills are also well to the fore on The Odessa Steps Sequence, which takes references from The Knife, of all things, and is similarly urgent, triumphally marching on into heavy prog Valhalla on the back of a surging guitar sequence. Not ’arf! Look at the Bears! (x3), always one of my personal favourites from the band, is here given more meat on its bones as it corners you in the forest. Don’t move, it will rip you to bits. Black Pit is the Steppenwolf cover, but not being familiar with the original, all I can say is, it fits in nicely.
As with any decent band, the proof of the pudding is in the live playing, and there are no let downs here, the whole thing sounding nicely urgent, but also controlled and well rehearsed. It was never likely that French TV would ever make it to these benighted shores even prior to the plague visitation, but now I guess “unlikely” has become “impossible”, given logistic and economic considerations, which is a great shame.
CD 1: Sort of Live in the Studio
01. Unexpected Secrets of the House of Mystery at the Witching Hour (8:32)
02. This Decadent Poetry is Awful (5:01)
03. Stubby Index Finger (7:55)
04. The Museum of Worthless Inventions (7:43)
05. That Jigsaw Puzzle is Tearing Our Family Apart (6:25)
06. A Cornucopia of Riches (9:23)
Total Time – 45:03
CD 2: Live in the Studio
01. Ghost Zone/Noble Obelisk (8:31)
02. This Decadent Poetry Is Awful (5:00)
03. The Odessa Steps Sequence (9:44)
04. Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! (9:20)
05. Conversational Paradigms (7:43)
06. That Thing On The Wall (8:51)
07. Black Pit (3:55)
08. A Cornucopia Of Riches (9:50)
Total Time – 62:56
Katsumi Yoneda – Guitars
Mike Sary – Bass
Pat Strawser – Keyboards
Jeff Gard – Drums
Mark L. Perry – Drums
Record Label: Pretentious Dinosaur Productions
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 1st June 2020